Franco Angeli came from a family with a strong socialist and anti-fascistic tradition. After his parents’ early death, he moved in with his older brother Otello, a syndicalist and later secretary of the Communist Party of Cinecittà. Between 1955 and 1957 Angeli started painting as a self-taught artist, frequenting the studio of Edgardo Mannucci, where he also came across Burri’s works.
Angeli’s production was initially influenced by the poetics of the informal movement. This lead him to paint dark materic and monochrome canvases, covered with torn nylon stockings symbolising the poverty and the grief he went through during his childhood. At the end of the 1950s, he began exploring mixed techniques and materials, treating his canvases with lime or covering them with gauze, tissue paper and varnish. His wish to evolve from the informal language led to a close friendship with Tano Festa and Mario Schifano, who shared his popular background and war traumas. Together they created a group called “Scuola di Piazza del Popolo”, that met up in Plinio de Martiis’ galleries and included Francesco Lo Savio, Pino Pascali, Jannis Kounellis and Fabio Mauri.
In the 1960s, a growing interest in the mass imagery drove Angeli to use pictures as ideological and stereotypical symbols. These were taken out of the urban environment, especially in Rome, and were meant to have a direct impact on the collective unconscious. Thus, from 1964, symbols like hammers and sickles, swastikas, dollar signs and Capitoline Wolves began populating Angeli’s works, evoking his ideology and socialist commitment, mediated through a fine veil covering the canvases that evoked a sense of reflexion, memory and estrangement. Later on, he adopted a more figurative approach with new images (obelisks, pyramids, geometric figures, airplanes, puppets) appearing on his canvases. He died in Rome in 1988.
Angeli’s first group exhibition was held in 1960 in Rome. His works were presented at several editions of the Venice Biennale (1964, 1978 and 1995), and of the Rome Quadriennale, in Bologna (1962 and 1972) and in Rome (1990-91). In 1988, the Rinaldo Rotta Gallery in Genoa dedicated an important exhibition to his work, and in 2008, on the 20th anniversary of his death, the Delloro Gallery in Rome organised a retrospective.